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Who Would Be on Your All-American Ballerinas List?(Past and Present)


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#31 maps

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 05:18 AM

Like bookends, to Farrell there is McBride. 

 

I only saw Farrell live late in her career and McBride after her prime.   The best I saw of Farrell is on film/video.  While that's true of all of the NYCB ballerinas I mentioned, I didn't see them after their primes, and LeClercq never had a chance to be at hers.

I define my great American ballerinas as people who I remember moments from specific performances even decades later: Farrell as Dulcinea,  Govrin as Hippolyta.  Merrill Ashley in Ballo, performances of Patricia Mcbride and Gelsey Kirkland.

 

Teresa Reichlen and Sarah Lane.  



#32 sandik

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 02:50 PM

I've been following this thread with interest, but haven't had the time to reply thoughtfully till now.  As a dance writer, I've been involved in myriad discussions of what the responsibilities of a critic might be, and have heard variations of all the opinions expressed above.  For me, the first responsibility anyone writing about dance has, whether they are a professional or an amateur (categories that we could argue about at length!) is to their own opinion of what they saw.  Criticism is a form of witnessing -- "I was there and this is what happened" -- you may have controversial views about how things were done, but that's part of the job. 

 

While there are people who might indeed read what you've said and think "gosh, that sounds like something I'd like," I don't think of criticism as a promotional tool.  That is the role of previews and features, not critical response.  While there isn't enough coverage of dance of any sort, I still believe it's valuable to think of these as separate kinds of writing.  When I'm writing a preview, or a spotlight piece for a performance calendar, it's a recommendation -- this is something worth seeing.  A review is altogether different.



#33 Helene

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 02:56 PM

Is there a difference between reviewing and criticism?  Is reviewing the witnessing -- this is what happened -- but the criticism the opinion?  (Not that the two can't be combined in the same piece.)

 

I'm thinking of criticism of Macaulay for using the "I" and his own categorization.  Croce and Denby didn't have to say "I," because it was understood that what they wrote was very much from their perspectives.



#34 sandik

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 03:12 PM

Is there a difference between reviewing and criticism?  Is reviewing the witnessing -- this is what happened -- but the criticism the opinion? 

 

It gets twistier than that -- many people use "reviewer" and "critic" interchangeably, mostly to avoid sounding too repetitious.  But the general rule of thumb is that a reviewer works in the daily journalism world -- their work is often turned around very quickly, and is usually (though not always) a response to a specific performance or short series of performances.  Critics usually work in a longer format, at a slower pace and with a larger context to discuss.  Sometimes we still find this work in a daily newspaper (like a "Sunday piece"), but more often this will go in a magazine or other periodical, where they can write longer, with more time for editing.  

 

(which is to say that sometimes we are reviewers and sometimes we are critics)

 

Just to make this more complex -- I usually write for a weekly alternative newspaper, but because of their production schedule, my deadlines are almost as tight as an overnight writer for a daily.  And since very few daily papers consistently run overnight reviews, sometimes those writers have fairly long deadlines.

 

I think what I'm trying to say is that, whether we call ourselves critics or reviewers (or dance writers, which is fast becoming the default description) when we're responding to a performance, a season, a single artist or an ensemble, it's our job to say what we think.  If readers don't agree, in this internet world there is increasingly the chance for a discussion (any publication with an online presence really loves reader response).  I don't want to sound pompous, but my first responsibility is to the art form, my only way to articulate it is through my own knowledge and experience.  



#35 sandik

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 03:38 PM

Is there a difference between reviewing and criticism?  Is reviewing the witnessing -- this is what happened -- but the criticism the opinion?  (Not that the two can't be combined in the same piece.)

 

I'm thinking of criticism of Macaulay for using the "I" and his own categorization.  Croce and Denby didn't have to say "I," because it was understood that what they wrote was very much from their perspectives.

First person writing is another twisty bit, since most publications have style sheets that deal with voice -- some papers want you to use "I" and some don't, even if it's clear that your work is your opinion.
 

(and there are still some publications that like the editorial "we," which Mark Twain said should be reserved for kings and editors.)



#36 pherank

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 04:22 PM

I'm thinking of criticism of Macaulay for using the "I" and his own categorization.  Croce and Denby didn't have to say "I," because it was understood that what they wrote was very much from their perspectives.

 

(and there are still some publications that like the editorial "we," which Mark Twain said should be reserved for kings and editors.)

 

Hmmm.  Does that mean "one" is dead and gone now?



#37 dirac

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 04:52 PM

 And the stuff about pointe work as the functional equivalent of foot-binding is beyond silly.

 

 

Possibly, but Macaulay is not the first to make the comparison nor will he be the last, I suspect.  To cite only one such, a passage from Joan Brady's "The Unmaking of a Dancer":

 

"There is a coming of age in first squeezing the feet into tiny satin shoes....even the pain they cause, which can be awful, takes on a mystical significance of its own, like the first blood drawn in battle....It took years for the fruit of such footbinding to manifest themselves, but at the time I was delighted.  What a toe shoe succeeds in doing is no less radical than changing the nature and function of the foot altogether..."

 

Peter Martins remarked in "Far From Denmark" that the two dancers he knew that were the most American were Edward Villella and Suzanne Farrell.



#38 sandik

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 07:15 PM

 

I'm thinking of criticism of Macaulay for using the "I" and his own categorization.  Croce and Denby didn't have to say "I," because it was understood that what they wrote was very much from their perspectives.

 

(and there are still some publications that like the editorial "we," which Mark Twain said should be reserved for kings and editors.)

 

Hmmm.  Does that mean "one" is dead and gone now?

 

Some people are still using "one," but most of the alt-papers have a slightly more casual tone, and "one" is pretty formal.

 

The bottom line is that a writer may have a personal style, but a publication has a house style -- and they come out on top.



#39 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 03:42 PM

 

 And the stuff about pointe work as the functional equivalent of foot-binding is beyond silly.

 

 

Possibly, but Macaulay is not the first to make the comparison nor will he be the last, I suspect.  To cite only one such, a passage from Joan Brady's "The Unmaking of a Dancer":

 

"There is a coming of age in first squeezing the feet into tiny satin shoes....even the pain they cause, which can be awful, takes on a mystical significance of its own, like the first blood drawn in battle....It took years for the fruit of such footbinding to manifest themselves, but at the time I was delighted.  What a toe shoe succeeds in doing is no less radical than changing the nature and function of the foot altogether..."

 

 

 

Note: I suspect that what follows is in the wrong thread, but since my initial complaint about Macaulay's article started here, I'll continue here. Moderators -- feel free to move this to a more appropriate thread.

 

The comparison of pointe work to foot binding is worse than silly: it's lazy. It attempts to blow a superficial resemblance up into a damning critique. The thinking goes something like this: "Pointe work, like foot binding, involves the feet, requires special shoes, looks painful, isn't practiced by men, and began in a less-enlightened era, therefore it too is an example of the benighted oppression of women by a male-dominated hierarchy. It too is an example of men crippling women out of a warped sense of beauty and a perverted eroticism." 
 
And although Macaulay isn't actively promoting the equation, he's happy to dump it into his litany of straw men and rhetorical questions to let his readers know he's hip to the issue. But the charge the comparison levies against ballet is sufficiently inflammatory to warrant a rebuttal. And if Macaulay doesn't really accept the comparison, he shouldn't have invoked it unless he was willing to challenge it head on.
 
[For a refresher, here's Macaulay: "The questions pile up. Does the 21st century even need ballerinas? America is one of many Western societies where women fight for equality in the workplace and can no longer expect men to stand when they enter a room; same-sex marriages are now institutionalized. Ballet had a beginning; it may have an end. In particular, the practice of dancing on point may one day seem as bizarre as the bygone Chinese practicing of binding women’s feet. Do we still need an art form whose stage worlds are almost solely heterosexual and whose principal women are shown not as workers but as divinities?"]
 
And the resemblance is superficial:
 
1) Foot binding was not an option. If you were a Han Chinese woman in any but the lowest class, your feet would have been bound to ensure your marriageability. 
 
But no one is forced to dance on pointe. Yes, you have to dance on pointe to be a classical ballerina -- but forgoing a career as a classical ballerina is in no way the equivalent of being deprived of the ability to walk normally for the rest of one's life. 
 
2) The structural damage done to the bound foot was extreme and irreparable. I urge everyone to go to this Wikipedia page for grim pictures of the results. But in the meantime, here's a description of the foot binding process itself, which was usually begun somewhere between ages 4 and 7.
 
"To enable the size of the feet to be reduced, the toes on each foot were curled under, then pressed with great force downwards and squeezed into the sole of the foot until the toes broke. The broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch forcibly broken. The bandages were repeatedly wound in a figure-eight movement, starting at the inside of the foot at the instep, then carried over the toes, under the foot, and around the heel, the freshly broken toes being pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. At each pass around the foot, the binding cloth was tightened, pulling the ball of the foot and the heel together, causing the broken foot to fold at the arch, and pressing the toes underneath."
 
Bound feet were prone to infection. Here's another paragraph from the Wikipedia article that will get your attention:
 
"If the infection in the feet and toes entered the bones, it could cause them to soften, which could result in toes dropping off; although, this was seen as a benefit because the feet could then be bound even more tightly. Girls whose toes were more fleshy would sometimes have shards of glass or pieces of broken tiles inserted within the binding next to her feet and between her toes to cause injury and introduce infection deliberately. Disease inevitably followed infection, meaning that death from septic shock could result from foot-binding, and a surviving girl was more at risk for medical problems as she grew older."
 
Women with bound feet were unable to walk normally -- they had to take mincing little steps while balanced on their heels. The wives, concubines, and daughters of wealthy men could rely on servants for help; the wives of poorer men had to work despite their pain and limited mobility. 
 
Dancing on pointe is undeniably hard on the feet (we've all seen this Henry Leutwyler photo) but it doesn't inflict the kind of pain or do the kind of damage that foot binding did. I'd say it's more akin to the wear and tear perpetrated on the bodies of professional athletes. And in that regard whatever damage that results from dancing on pointe is surely more benign than the chronic traumatic encephalopathy suffered by the participants in football, boxing, and ice hockey. 
 
I'm fine with the contention that pointe work was prompted by a notion of ideal womanhood that may seem ludicrous -- and disempowering -- to us now, although I'd also argue that we needn't therefore consign a whole art form to the dustbin of history.  But I'm not fine with basing an argument on an invidious comparison -- and that's what the equation of pointe work and foot binding is. 


#40 dirac

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 04:31 PM

I'm sure Macaulay understands these distinctions quite well and he didn't mean that pointe work is literally equivalent to Chinese footbinding in all its ghastliness. I certainly didn't take him to mean that.  It is also true that some simplistic comparisons have been made in cultural critiques of ballet. I was merely noting that the resemblance has occurred to many other people besides Macaulay. (I don't happen to find all such analyses absurd, but reasonable people who love the art form can disagree.)



#41 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 06:49 PM

 

[For a refresher, here's Macaulay: "The questions pile up. Does the 21st century even need ballerinas...?"

 

Is he questioning-(or diminishing)- the very source of his income...?



#42 sandik

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Posted 16 July 2013 - 10:39 PM

 

 

[For a refresher, here's Macaulay: "The questions pile up. Does the 21st century even need ballerinas...?"

 

Is he questioning-(or diminishing)- the very source of his income...?

 

No, not at all.  As a dance critic, he watches and writes about all kinds of dance, not just traditional ballet. 

 

I think this does get at a very important point -- what constitutes a ballerina role in contemporary ballet?  It might be interesting to go back and take a look at Macaulay's recent essay on partnering in Christopher Wheeldon's ballets, and what he seems to perceive as a manipulative relationship between men and women (beyond the mechanical manipulation that is pretty much required for most partnering techniques).  I'm paraphrasing wildly, but my impression was that he felt the lack of physical space between the two dancers undercut the sense of the woman as independent actor, which is a big part of how we see a ballerina.  A ballerina is autonomous, in a way that a danseur is not -- there are many contemporary ballets that have extremely challenging roles for the lead woman that don't necessarily create this sense of independence.  I think that's part of what Macaulay is trying to get at in this essay.



#43 sandik

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Posted 16 July 2013 - 10:41 PM

If you haven't seen it yet, Dance Magazine editor Wendy Perron responded to Macaulay's essay on the DB blog here.



#44 pherank

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Posted 16 July 2013 - 11:16 PM

If you haven't seen it yet, Dance Magazine editor Wendy Perron responded to Macaulay's essay on the DB blog here.

 

It's great to hear Perron talk about dancers doing exemplary work in modern ballets. But I think she inadvertently ends up criticizing more than just Macaulay's preferences when she states,

"But to me, his sense of ballerina grandeur is a bit outdated. He says that people think of ballerinas as having an “old world” quality. This is true for Swan Lake, Giselle, and Sleeping Beauty. But while the classics are still treasured, the ballet world has exploded beyond the classics..."

I find that "ballerina grandeur", and even an "old world" quality is precisely the quality that ABT fans (one obvious example) appreciate in their dancers, and Macaulay is very familiar with the ABT audience. But fans of Paul Taylor's company aren't necessarily looking for grandeur in the dancing - they've other concerns. It really is a mixed bag of expectations when you look at particular companies and their associated regional audiences.



#45 sandik

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Posted 17 July 2013 - 10:34 AM

I find that "ballerina grandeur", and even an "old world" quality is precisely the quality that ABT fans (one obvious example) appreciate in their dancers, and Macaulay is very familiar with the ABT audience. But fans of Paul Taylor's company aren't necessarily looking for grandeur in the dancing - they've other concerns. It really is a mixed bag of expectations when you look at particular companies and their associated regional audiences.

 

 

I don't see ABT often enough to have a deep understanding of their audience, but I'm sure that they have preferences -- the company has a specific style that is part of their identity, and in general their artists exemplify that style.  ABT has a larger repertory of 19th c classics than any other US company, and so naturally their dancers would have a deeper relationship with those works.  But to get at a slightly larger question, since there are ballerina roles in many 20th c works that don't necessarily have the "old world" quality that Perron references, what are the qualities of a contemporary ballerina, and who is making works today that highlight those attributes?




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